Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Reading about the various Frank-celebrating musical endeavors that are in peril because of letters like Barry at KUR got is heartbreaking. Musicians go and learn wonderful Frank music, take the trouble to play it live for an eager public and are made to feel like war criminals, intentionally or not, for this wholesome activity.
There's a case to be made that Gail ought to deal with the fans as allies, and personally rather than through attorneys and impersonal letters. Because that's what we are, really. Doing so would be a more fitting and effective way to accomplish the ZFT's intellectual property protection issues. And not piss everyone off so dang much.
But you know what? Just as the present-day composer refuses to die, The Year of the Freak is imminent. What I get out of that is, no matter what, we still have the great music and no one can wreck our relationship with it.
So, for the Dec. 28, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, the last show of the year, I'm just going to spin a bunch of meat-and-potatoes great FZ tunes willy nilly over the air, with only the rhyme and reason Frank imbued into them.
As we end another broadcast year, it's back to being about the Zappa music rather than the politics of Zappa music.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
One of Dweezil's missions with the Zappa Plays Zappa tours is to expose younger people to Frank's music. A noble endeavor, to be sure.
But you know what? By some mystical process, younger musically-intense folk who need Zappa do find their way to him and his incomparable repertoire, even without adult proselytising.
Some "Get in Touch With [Their] Inner Zappa" via the academic route, while others make contact with once-young case of arrested development accidentally placed in charge of a venerable radio show.
The serious young musicians intuitively equivilate the really good shit – Radiohead, Jethro Tull, Zappa – regardless of the decade in which it was produced.
In my travels, I've come to know two college-age guys who grok the greatness of Frank. They'll both be on the show tomorrow night – in fact, they're running it.
In alphabetical order:
Jesse Alm, 19, is the Arcata Eye's Glances editor, and a brilliant (my opinion) young writer and journalist. A student at the University of California San Diego, Jesse's majoring in International Studies with a minor in Political Science. He plays cello and piano, listens to "a lot of jazz," and particularly enjoys Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and Medeski, Martin & Wood. His musical guilty pleasure is reggae. He likes to play frisbee, too.
Jesse likes Frank to the extent of e-mailing me during the show requesting Frank covers by other bands that I don't even know about.
Jesse co-hosts the show with a man two years his senior, Mr. Gianni Bisio. Gianni used to be a checker at Murphy's Sunny Brae Market, and knows more about '70s prog than I do, in molecular detail, even though I freaking lived through it. I'd go in to buy my deplorable groceries, and we'd end up in a half-hour discussion of John Wetton's career in the salad dressing aisle. Now he's a Psychology major at Sacramento State.
Asked to name three main musical influences, Gianni lists Jimi Hendrix, the Moody Blues and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Again, he's 21. Note that Gianni can tell you everything about Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and probably even Marillion - probably more than the guys who were in those bands. I've never really successfully gotten him into Tull, though – it just never took. (Update: He's WAAAY into Tull - my mistake!) But he understands Frank, and that's really all that matters.
So, the premise of this week's show is College Rhythm. My goal is to have Jesse and Gianni do most of the song selection and commentary. I'm extending the charter of the show beyond Frank tunes, to include other musicks that these guys know about that might appeal to Frank fans. We'll have them play tunes, then talk about their cosmic significance in Zappa's universe.
Call or write during the show if you want; you know how.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Since I'm a newspaper editor, I know all too well that it's unwise to opine before hearing all sides.
If you were able to shed any light at all on the reasoning behind the lawyer letter to Barry at KUR, I'm sure it would be helpful to many.
Zappa's Grubby Chamber
I am going to take you at your word (without proof or a reason to do so) and answer your question. Thanks for asking. If you want to do the actual research it takes to understand the evolution of this particular circumstance, be my guest. I am not going to recount it for you.
Apart from any real, new, or naive fans seeing our properties on various sites and somehow having the idea that we are supporting these or authorizing them by virtue of their 'use', among other of the many problems that we continue to face as the rights owners of all things Zappa is how to protect our copyrights and what is the risk of failure to do so. This always means spending dollars to chase virtual pennies. Not a great or rewarding plan.
(Oh yes, and they always claim they are spending so much money to honor FZ. Cacadoody. It is the Music, not gossip and fiction and innuendo that bring fans to Zappa.)
My favorite idea of a good time in these instances would be to be able to authorize these "fan" sites and work with them as part of the education and cooperation process - even though that is time-consuming. In the main, these people NEVER write or contact us up front to ask permission. (Considerate fans do.)
Unfortunately it is not always fans - but rather people who have their own agenda and do not wish it to be interfered with. There are so many that cast themselves as 'god' and then cast FZ in their own image. This is not fun for us. Ignorance is ignorable to a degree. But when you see the abuse level increase with the posting of obviously copyrighted material where no permission was sought or even contemplated and when that expands to include the posting of bit torrents or links to them, including work that we just published, the lines get drawn pretty swiftly.
It should be noted that some of this is done on an autopilot basis - in the sense that some of the letters generated by our legal representatives and others happen without being able to advance the possibilities of a resolution. Lately however, as our ability to increase the output from the Vault expands, we are more dismayed than ever at how rude, crude and insensitive these purported "fans" can be. And the proof that they are actually not fans is in their utter disregard for FZ's works and their meanness toward my (FZ's/our) family that they express - along with the considerable abuse of copyrighted materials and trademarks. Real fans do not do that.
The idea that these types are doing us any favors is preposterous. The idea that anyone thinks these properties were created for them to use as they wish is preposterous. But the idea that they have the self-appointed right to to so is against the law as protected under the Constitution of the United States of America and enforced by whatever legal means available to us and to Frank Zappa during his lifetime.
We did not write these laws but they have made it possible for FZ to make a living and to provide for his family doing the very thing he loved - writing Music. And they have made it possible for us to continue to survive preserving those very works. Consider if we could not do so - there would be no Vault.
Since his death people can (and do) make any claim they wish as to what they think FZ would do - or say or think. But I do not wish to waste my time on this. I still work for FZ. And my promise, my duty and my obligation remains - to protect the integrity of the work and the intent of the Composer and in service to this purpose I will defend his identity and the right for his name (image & likeness) to be associated with his work - and the right for the work to remain unaltered, and unabused by others. I will continue to do this for my grandchildren and my children, for all the people who love the music, for all the potential in all those with the ears and insight to hear it - and first, last and always for Frank Zappa. Long may we all laugh.
It's hard, on the face of it, to see how Barry's definitive Zappa resource harms Frank's memory or the Zappa Family Trust, but I'll refrain from judgment until we hear Gail's reasoning.
What I do know is that Kill Ugly Radio is, like Frank's music, THE BEST.
However, beware. It can happen here, too. If the hammer comes down on our tiny enterprise, whatever shall we do?
27-Jul 1984, Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA
Soundcheck: 54 min, Aud, C/C-
Drowning Witch, ???, The Deathless Horsie, Black Page, guitar solo, guitar solo (q: Let's Move To Cleveland), You Are What You Is, Mudd Club, The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing, The Dangerous Kitchen, Cocaine Decisions, Nig Biz
100 min, Aud, B+
Zoot Allures, Tinseltown Rebellion, Oh No, Son Of Orange County, More Trouble Every Day, Penguin In Bondage, Hot Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel, Dumb All Over, Evil Prince, Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy, Advance Romance, He's So Gay, Bobby Brown, Keep It Greasey, Honey Don't You Want A Man Like Me?, Carol You Fool, Chana In De Bushwop, Let's Move To Cleveland, Why Don't You Like Me?, Be In My Video, Cosmik Debris, The Illinois Enema Bandit
DS: The secret word definitely was brought to new highs during that tour, huh?
FZ: That's true.
DS: "Tell Me You Love Me" kind of has gone through some evolutions. Obviously, it evolved into "Why Don't You Like Me". Before that in '84, there was somethin' sort of in-between...
FZ: "Don't Be A Lawyer". 
DS: "Don't Be A Lawyer". (FZ laughs) I'm not really too familiar with the lyrics of that, but what's the basic gist of... I know what the other two mean. I'm familiar with those lyrics, but what's the basic gist of "Don't Be A Lawyer"? What's that song about?
FZ: Well, basically we have too many lawyers in the United States, and most of the things that are wrong with the, well, let's look at it this way. If you had the belief that living, when you, let's see, how do I say this? Let's say you're a regular person and you have a regular life and you just wanna do your regular stuff. Hanging over your head is the possibility that you could run afoul of the law, laws which you don't even know exist. There's always a chance that the government, in some way, is going to give you a bad time. This leads to the belief, the widespread belief, I feel in the United States, that the average guy can't get a fair deal, because there is no fair deal available anymore, and that always, there lurks the possibility that in order for you to survive, just to stay out of jail or to stay out of bankruptcy, you're gonna have to use the services of a lawyer. Well, the lawyer is not your friend, because the lawyers are the people who created the situation where there are so many laws that it makes your life miserable. It's a self-perpetuating monstrosity, and we have too many lawyers dispensing bad law, actually participating in the creation of bad law at the point where they become legislators. I think that it's time for some social engineering to steer people away from the legal profession. There are just too many lawyers for our own good. These guys have to earn a living, too, and so you wind up with people suggesting that you sue somebody else. That's how they earn their money, by generating paperwork. You will pay them money
to make somebody else's life miserable and vice-versa. That's what's lurking beneath the surface of American life right now.
DS: It's a (Den pronounces it wrong) litigious society.
FZ: Yeah. You pronounce it litigious.
Monday, December 10, 2007
If you think about the few Zappa tunes that have penetrated the morass of sameness that constitutes mass-market music (I don't need to name these songs for you), you understand why the lay perception of Frank has to do with brashness and bombast. Don't eat the yellow snow, hyuk, hyuk!
But we know that Zappa music comes in a full range of colors, textures and temperatures, from searing to shimmering and often, quite subtle. That's the kind of thing I plan to play on the Dec. 13, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber.
The reason is, near the end of last week's "Smell the Glove" show, Julie e-mailed in a request for "Black Napkins." But I already had the final theme tunes loaded up and timed out to the top of the hour, so I wasn't able to play it. That song has some real mega-nuanced guitar "licks" (all over), as does its even more subtle companion piece, "Pink Napkins" (I think of them as related, anyway). And what else?
"Lucille," "I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth," "Watermelon in Easter Hay," "Spider of Destiny""Rubber Shirt," "Outside Now," "Canarsie," "Stucco Homes," "While You Were Art II," "The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution," "Blessed Relief," "One Man, One Vote," "Tink Walks Amok," "Jonestown," "Damp Ankles," "Project X," "St. Etienne," "Canard Du Jour" and even "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" all come to mind, and might get played.
I'm not saying this music is romantic, but it's got some aspects of that Zappa guy that your average "Valley Girl" fan might not know about. Or even your girlfriend.
Every week I write down a list of the songs I played, and then do nothing at all with it. Henceforth, I shall make an effort to jot down here what the last show consisted of, apart from ads, announcements and extraneous occurrences.
Dec. 7 was a good show (for me, anyway). I wasn't sure how the "Smell the Glove" theme would come together, but it did, and quite smoothly.
Torrid tuneage consisted of:
- Be In My Video
- Mudd Club
- Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink
- We're Turning Again (FZMTMOP)
- We're Turning Again (YCDTOSA6)
- Is That Guy Kidding Or What?
- I Have Been In You (Sheik Yerbouti)
- I Have Been In you (YCDTOSA6)
- Carolina Hard-Core Ecstacy (Bongo Fury)
- Carolina Hard-Core Ecstacy (YCDTOSA4)
- Tinseltown Rebellion (Tinseltown Rebellion)
- Tinseltown Rebellion (DHBIM?)
- Mud Shark/What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?/Bwana Dik/Latex Solar Beef/Do You Like My New Car?/Happy Together
- Punky's Whips (ZINY)
- Punky's Whips (Baby Snakes)
- Purple Haze/Sunshine Of Your Love
Monday, December 3, 2007
The photo above incorporates two 1980s pop culture references – Michael Jackson's idiotic single glove fashion statement, and Spinal Tap's legendary but nonexistent "Smell the Glove" album. (Sorry it's such a crappy pic.)
Without even looking in Barry's Zappa Wiki Jawaka, I can easily think of a dozen or more rock stars mentioned in Frank's music, either by name or with musical quotes: Suzi Quatro, Peter Frampton, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jimi Hendrix, Boy George, Michael Jackson, Joni Mitchell, Roger Daltrey, Janis Joplin, Donovan, Punky Meadows, Cream, Jeff Beck, Al DiMeola, Alvin Lee...
And what about the Beatles? Frank performed with John Lennon and Yoko that time, and Ringo played Frank in 200 Motels. When We're Only In It For The Money came out, there was some legal dispute over the cover, which riffed on Sgt. Pepper. Frank called Paul McCartney to see if he would let the Mothers put out their parody, and Paul said something like, "That's what we have lawyers for." Frank, as I recall, told Paul in so many words that actually, the lawyers do work for us and we can tell them what to do.
The weakest Beatle link would be George Harrison. No known contact. But George did mention Frank in his song, "Blood From A Clone." Can you think of two more dissimilar guitar players than Frank and George?
By the way, "Oh No" is about John Lennon, isn't it?
So anyway, for the December 7, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, I'll play lots of songs that include pop culture references, mentioning other musicians either by name or by hook.
Update, Friday night: 'Twas in October that Chocolate Bob, aka "Bob in Tempe" dropped off the entirely splendid interpretation of Frank's pouting rictus by artist Connie Fisher at the station. I told him it reminded me of an old John Lennon poster I have up in my office. I'm just getting around to taking a pic of them side by side, and here it is:
This week's post seems like the perfect place to have two of my favorite guys, John and Frank, side by side. Yes, that is a set o' Dweezil-signed Zappanties dangling from the Casio electronic sax-o-phone to the left, and to the lefter is a Joe Jackson "Beat Crazy" poster. On the right is the edge of the classic Asia poster as seen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Thanks, Chocolate Bob in Tempe, Arizona!
OK, headed out the door to the studio to bungle a bunch of segues... see you on the radio!
Monday, November 26, 2007
But no. Along with all that, he had to go and invent little ditties that the best conservatory-trained musicians struggled to play properly. This would be Frank's "Tinkertoy" music – the tunes with all those little notes that fly by at 8,200 mph, usually set against some impossible time signature.
"Drowning Witch/Envelopes," besides being hilariously imaginative and featuring truly evocative guitar expression, includes some completely bitchin' flurries of notes, including the Hawaiian Punch jingle. In the liner notes to YCDTOSA III, Frank notes that the 1984 band never played in correctly all the way through, and that the 1982 band only came close on one occasion. That's why the album version of the song had to be stitched together from 17 different performances.
There are Tinkertoy-dense songs, like "Moggio," "St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast," "Wild Love," and many others. And everyone (except possibly Sam Brownback) adores those two all-time top Tinkertoy tunes, "Peaches En Regalia" and "The Black Page." Of course, many other "routine" Zappa songs are punctuated by mind-blowing micro-note passages.
This tendency may be Frank's most defining characteristic. When you hear those amazing passages, you know right away that you're listening to Zappa music. But he didn't seem to see any musical difference between the impossible parts and the most guttural rock or blistering blues. They were all flavors on his musical pallet, ready for deployment at his whim.
So, for the Nov. 30, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, we'll play lots of highly challenging (for the players) Frank songs encrusted with jillions of tiny notes, those little quick ones that no one else really ever tried to play.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
of the Zappa experience, but the only thing that minimized his use of more elaborate instrumental assemblages was their cost and inherent management problems.
Even young Frank would hire orchestras from time to time, just to hear his music played. And he knew how to get the big band sound by augmenting the rock bands with horn and percussion sections. In attempting to more fully instrumentalize his music, he got screwed a few times.
Nonetheless, given his persistence and productivity, over the years Frank did manage to overcome the obstacles and create a solid body of what we might call "classical" music, whatever that is. With small ensembles, full orchestras and in digital realms, he explored the harmonic and percussive climes of fine, fine music.
On the November 27, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, we'll enjoy a pleasant Thanksgiving treat together as some of us digest and assimilate slaughtered turkey remains – Classical Frank. And I'll be channeling sort of a combo of Sebastian Cabot and Leonard Pinth-Garnell for the occasion.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Someone from that camp – or purporting to be, anyway – said some rude things about Our Hero that really don't bear repeating. Suffice to say that they're perfectly in keeping with the whole Neocon Repuglican ethos we've come to know and loathe over these past seven years.
I think it's up for grabs as to whether anyone could actually be that stupid, even knowing the depths of intellectual and moral depravity the Party of Piety has become so deservedly known for. It could be some kind of ultra-hip conceptual art project or something. But some on both sides took it seriously, as the comment threads on the Brownback blog and good old Kill Ugly Radio demonstrate.
Unfortunately, some Frank fans responded to the hate rhetoric in the same spirit in which it was (maybe) intended. Here's one particularly piquant hunk o' blowback, appealing of only for the rhythm and texture of the verbiage:
And so on. But really, what's the point? Do we need to become like them to define them? Do you think Frank would have wasted his time flaming morons? Sure, but he'd do it musically.
You sad sacks of decaying human pus … thank your Imaginary Cop for the ignorance that keeps the shredded integuments of your twisted little faux-reality intact. You plainly lack the morals, the intellect or the maturity to stomach the alternative.
Guy’s been stone dead for almost 15 years - hey, wow, so has the conscience of the USA!
And did. So, for the Nov. 16 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, we'll harken back to those halcyon days when Mr. Z "celebrated" the Republicans of his day in song. And whenever the word "Falwell" or "Robertson" or "Meese" comes up, we'll mentally substitute "Brownback."
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Frank was second to none in bringing forth interesting sonic textures. Turning on a dime from syphilitic buzzsaw guitar to cayenne-pepper harmonic climes to flurries of the impish xylophone merriment, Frank danced the blues. Also the greens, purples, burnt siennas and mellow yellows of our imagination.
Frank always had a good beat, funny lyrics, great insights, all enveloped in the most enchanting textural cocoons. Electronic mischief, xenochrony, found items, traditional instruments used in fantastically expressive ways – he just had a way with sound.
"The Black Page #1" is a fine example of Frank's sound sculpting. Terry's drums are adorned with percussive dubs in a merry dance of sound. What about that shimmering cascade after the forst line of "Why Does it Hurt When I Pee?" What could that signify? Here's another one: that woeful vocal sample on "Promiscuous," the one that reacts to Dr. Koop's fascinating lecture? The portentous trombone in "Cheepnis" alone is worth the price of admission.
Some of my favorite Frank soundification is on the vastly overlooked L. Shankar album, Touch Me There. Does anyone else love that genius work as much as I do? The ashy, raspy texture on "Windy Morning" is so delicious. What about the fantastic clash of jammin' guitars and inter-galactic orchestral strings on "Little Stinker?"
Well, there's a lot to choose from. The Nov. 9, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber will be chock full of texture. And maybe, just for texture, I'll read some of James Lileks' favorite dishes. Yum! Send your textural suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (707) 786-5486.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Frank wasn't necessarily a fan of flower power and things psychedelic. Best I can tell, it wasn't contempt, but more... let's say, "rueful bemusement." Yeah, that.
Frank certainly could have cashed in on the whole hippie-music phenomenon, since he emerged onto the music scene right when all that was happening, man. Instead, he unreservedly hoisted all the flower-power pretense on its groovy petard with songs like "Flower Punk," and "Absolutely Free (The Track)."
Here's what Frank said in a 1968 interview with Rolling Stone (Oh, it's gotta be true!):
You once told Davy Jones of The Monkees you liked Monkees music better than anything you'd heard from San Francisco. Were you serious?
I said most of what they recorded sounded better. People think San Francisco rock is supposed to be cosmic value and all that, but it is manufactured music and manufactured music is worthless. Monkees music is manufactured, too, of course, and I'd like to say at this point: they're worth about the same, except the Monkees records sound better produced. The problem with San Francisco groups is, I was expecting wonders, and miracles and what I heard was a bunch of white blues bands that didn't sound as funky as my little band in high school.
And yet, just in terms of production values, songs on Freak Out! and Absolutely Free do sound kind of like Jefferson Airplane music. You know, the gutless drum sound, the treble-y guitar, the too-much-echo and overall lack of dynamic range. I doubt if most of the psychedelic bands had any higher aspirations, but we know Frank did. The shitty sound was surely a result of uncomprehending engineers in white shirts and ties utilizing 10-foot poles to operate the primitive recording equipment, and all on a low budget since the execs weren't sure if the rock "fad" would last another 10 minutes.
On the Nov. 2 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, we'll delve into Frank's psychedelic side and maybe even play a few tracks by other rockin' teenage combos of the era, including my favorite psychedelic band, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy.
Regarding the groovy rendering of Frank above, it appeared at the KHUM studio with my name on it, so THANKS to whomever dropped it off. It's by Connie Fisher, a Verde Valley, Arizona artist and designer. Check out her site for some really mind-expanding art and music!
Monday, October 22, 2007
Ah, Halloween. A special night for Frank, and all who revel in Zappatude. Why? Because that's when dangerous magic is afoot.
Halloween 1981. I remember it well, Eric Rowland and I were trying to manage an embarrassment of pre-digital riches that night, what with Frank appearing live on MTV while his embittered former employees did what they could in a bar in Hayward, Calif. (see above). While Eric taped the show on his BetaMax down in Fremont, I zoomed up to Hayward and partook of Jimmy Carl, Don Preston and the rest. Just to say I did, really – the real musical event was Frank, always energized by this particular holiday.
For the Oct. 26 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, we'll unleash hordes of barking pumpkins and maybe a giant poodle or two your way, because it's Halloween!
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Frank talked about time a lot. I think it fascinated him. Think about it.
First, there's all those references to wasting time (in "Flakes," "Greggery Peccary," "Cosmick Debris," "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing," The Jazz Discharge Party Hats" and so on).
Not to mention "infinity and fractional divisions thereof." And what to make of this?
"Folks, as you can see for yourself, the way this clock over here is behaving, TIME IS OF AFFLICTION! Now this might be cause for alarm among a portion of you, as, from a certain experience, I TEND TO PROCLAIM: 'THE EONS ARE CLOSING'!"
And then there's the elephant in the room: Frank's freewheeling use of insane time signatures. No one has even woven together so many nonstandard timings so effortlessly and so... bouncily.But wait – there's more! What about Frank's ethic of "AAAFNRAA" – "Anything Anytime Anyplace For No Reason At All?" Which brings us to Xenochrony.
Get the picture?
So, take all of the above, roll it on up and top it with a little green rosetta, and you have ample grist for me to botch Friday night's show with.
I've had a lot of participation and feedback during the last few shows. Listener suggestions tend to take the show in unintended directions, which Frank would've liked. So keep it coming, by whatever means you deem appropriate.
(707) 786-5486, email@example.com
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
The photo above is from Society Pages No. 4, the pre-Interwebtubes periodical for the Zappa community by Rob Samler and Den Simms. It was taken by Larry Hulst. Those guys put a lot of work into that mag. That edition even had a letter to the editor from Mike Keneally!
The last song on this week's The South Side, preceding Zappa's Grubby Chamber, will be Johnny Guitar Watson's "Three Hours Past Midnight." (Thanks, Chas. With that kind of lead-in, I better continue the continuity!)
Frank really liked that song. No, he really liked it. You can fully hear Johnny's influence in Frank's guitar playing – the attack, articulation and other things that I, a non-guitar player, am surely not even aware of.
As I was writing that last bit, my friend Jay Davis sent me a link to a new (to me) streaming Zappa channel called Zappateers, and danged if they weren't playing just the kind of thing I was getting at – a 1979 bootleg of "Five-Five-FIVE" being played live in Manchester, UK., and another 1979 live version of "Treacherous Cretins," with extra-special Vinnie Colaiuta awesomeness, full-blown. Wow, this station is great – what an aroma!
So for the Oct. 19 Zappa's Grubby Chamber from 10 p.m. to midnight, let's follow Frank's guitaristics from his early, Johnny "Guitar" Watson-oriented underpinnings to his latter days as a full-on shredder. I don't intend for this to be another guitar show (which we've done before and will do again), but more about the rock. The rock and roll.
Update: Kill Ugly Radio has a post discussing Frank's rockitude. This could be grist for the show as well.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Frank's musical temperament was mercurial. Musically, he did what interested him, the result being the stunningly eclectic repertoire we now have to tap into, which makes possible a seemingly inexhaustible variety of conceptual continuities.
He had moods, too. Compare Frank's jovial mischief-making on the live Baby Snakes album with his more formalistic affect on Does Humor Belong in Music?
But it's musically that Frank's all over the map. So for the Oct. 5 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, let's contrast and compare various tokens of Frank's extreme. There's his complex, tightly arranged pieces, like the "Black Page," and his guttural rock, like say, "Rat Tomago." Wholesome-esque pop ditties like "Let Me Take You To The Beach," and naughty, naughty exercises like "Dinah-Moe Humm." Vocal-intensive pieces like the whole medley comprised of "Society Pages," "I'm A Beautiful Guy,"Beauty Knows No Pain," "Charlie's Enormous Mouth," "Any Downers?" and "Conehead" vs. purely instrumental bits like... well, there's so many. And how about Frank's R&B/doo-wop predilections, say Ruben & the Jets, vs. his classical tendencies, as with Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger.
So, it's Contrast and Compare night on the next Zappa's Grubby Chamber. And in that spirit, let's consider that April '93 edition of Playboy.
Frank's interview started on page 55. Turn the page and what do you see? Chuck Norris for new Right Guard® Sport Stick.
Chuck believed that "The best defense is not to offend." It seems safe to say that Frank was not an adherent of that particular strategy.
what the fuck is up
with Chuck's left hand?
Monday, September 24, 2007
Our friend Frank really liked to make stuff up. I mean, on the spot. Improvisational segments were built into every concert, and sometimes within songs.
Frank made his bands learn dozens and dozens of songs – some of 'em really hard, too – and jumbled the order around from night to night. On top of that, he introduced sheer chaos into the mix, which few to no other rock or even art rock bands would ever risk. Audience participation, dance contests, quiltmaking... Frank reveled in the danger! And it bore wonderful results.
He made himself improvise, too. Of course there were the guitar solos, so majestic in their architecture. And then there was the all-time masterpiece, "Jazz Discharge Party Hats." In real time, Frank musically related a funny story about his road crew, gilding it with his personal lamentations. Mr. Vai then added his brilliantly executed note-for-note guitar matching of the improv vocal (he scored it, too – see above) , and we have an all-time Zappa classic. Yet another completely original, genius-hilarious FZ piece that's nothing at all like anything he ever did before or since.
Compounding the absurdity was amazing Mike Keneally, who took it upon himself to learn both the vocal and guitar for "Jazz Discharge Party Hats" and play both at once in concerts.
So on the Sept. 28 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, let's find as many examples of this pehenomenon as we can, and play them, and be happy! Songs, that is, which include real-time chaos. "Jazz Discharge Party Hats" (both versions), "Dummy Up," "Be-Bop Tango," "Panty Rap, "Titties & Beer," lots of things in the You Can't Do That On Stage Any More series... what else?
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Above is a tattered Sept. 24, 1971 LIFE magazine clipping brought unto me by an interested listener – thanks, interested listener! It's just as I remember it. Frank certainly looks svelte – and just think about the tunes that were stewing in his brain at the time. Not sure what the lead time was on his compositions, but it's possible that Grand Wazoo and even Apostrophe and Overnite Sensation material was being born.
All of which has nothing to do with the budget of the film, although it helps. No wait. What I meant, was, in honor of Frank's family values, let's play happy, wholesome, family-oriented FZ tunes on the Sept.21, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber – yes, there are such things. To qualify, songs have to at least acknowledge the existence of relatives, or specific familial persons, places or things, naturally excluding tropical possessions.
"Motherly Love," "Uncle Bernie's Farm," "Mom & Dad" "Bow Tie Daddy" "The Idiot Bastard Son," "Lonely Little Girl," "Little House I Used to Live In," "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama," "Little House I Used to Live In," "Daddy Daddy Daddy," "Son of Orange County," "San Ber'dino," Yo' Mama," "Joe's Garage," Teen-Age Wind," "Harder Than Your Husband," "Truck Driver Divorce," "Baby, Take Your Teeth Out," "Porn Wars" and possibly others. Call or write with suggestions Friday night.
I included Porn Wars because that's the song in which Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) tried to snidely impugn Frank's parenthood – or maybe she was just reflecting the mass misperception of Frank as some sort of demented Ronald McDonald of the Nouveaux Abstruse who couldn't responsibly spawn and raise genetic artifacts:
FZ: Why would you be interested?
Sen. Hawkins: Just as a point of interest in this ah...
Well, come on over to the house and I'll show them to you.
Sen. Hawkins: I, I might do that!To the best of my knowledge, Paula never swang by to check out Frank's kids' toys. If only she woulda...
Thursday, September 13, 2007
If you get Frank Zappa, you get loaf. No, your new smash-flop FZ album doesn't come with a gooey loaf center, except in the abstract sense.
Frank had an unerring sense of the absurd details that make life worth enduring. What other "rock star" would use Confinement Loaf as a garnish to his music? Only Frank, and we who love his music, would understand the relevance of loaf.
Zappa's music is multi-layered. It fully has the onion-skin art thing going on with it, and repeated listenings invariably yield fresh delights and insights. Sometimes, when I make promos for the show, I sample portions of his tunes. Often I'm taken by how complete the individual bits are – they're perfect compositions unto themselves, even though they weren't necessarily intended to be consumed as bite-sized lumps.
I'm thinking, for example, of that dazzling figure Frank deploys in "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?" after the line, "...the band was tight" at :28 to :32 . And what the hell is that thing at 1:03 to 1:05 in "Inca Roads?" Whatever it is, it's so very, very wrong, and simply wonderful.
And what about that "Go Hawaiian" lick (1:13 to 1:15 in "Drowning Witch," and other songs)? That thing, which I well remember from the original Donny and Marie Hawaiian Punch ads, was destined to become a Zappa hook, for way obvious reasons. Not only is it musically delightful, but the whole concept of "going Hawaiian" is so amazingly cheesy, well, it had to become a Frank fixture. Again, Frank finds the nuggets o' wonder in the mundane, and extrapolates them for his use.
But the wonderment can be even more subtle. As just one example, at 4:19 in "Andy," at the very end of one of the last drum-breakey parts, before it goes into the final tirade, there's what sounds like someone rapping a pang cymbal with their knuckle, and it's just the perfect touch. Who else would bother with such a thing?
On the Sept. 14 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, I'll play my favorite clever weirdnesses embedded in Frank's music – the odd corners and extra-special genius touches, which, along with the brilliant music and funny biznis, so distinguish FZ from the usual morass of meaninglessness that dominates popular culture.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Yes, we "assumed a wide stance." And speaking of poor, repressed Sen. Craig, "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," which we played last week, includes this passage, ripped from today's headlines:
Perverting the men who make your laws
Every desire is hidden away...
This week's graphic is of two artifacts from the concert. The panties which Dweezil signed for me, thus ensuring that they'll never be worn (or washed), and the matching pick he gave me, which says, "Gary Coleman" for reasons unclear.
That's it! See you on the radio this Friday.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
As Frank Zappa fans, ours is sometimes a lonely lot. Oh sure, these days we can connect with the virtual FZ community online, but that hasn't always been the case. And, day to day, unless you are fortunate enough to live in an area that has an uncommonly high statistical density of Frank fans, as I do, it can be disheartening. After all, most commercial music is, and probably always has been, unredeeming sludge. At least it used to be human-crafted sludge, but now, with all the frightening little tools science has made available, it's largely machine-generated dreck designed pursuant to the dictates of today's bold new breed of entertainment executives.
And so it was with considerable gratification that I observed clumps of Zappa fans headed toward the Berkeley Community Theatre Monday night, Aug. 20. Frank diaspora from all over Northern California converged on the site, and it was quite heartening to behold.
I was hoping, actually expecting to see some of my old friends with whom I used to attend Zappa concerts. But it was not to be. Either they weren't there, or we've all become so decrepit that we didn't recognize each other. That worked out OK, though, as I did meet up with some new friends at the show. And there was one person I knew – Dimitrius, a former Arcata Post Office employee who brought good music to that facility and with whom I could discuss matters Frank.
I also noticed many obvious parent/child attendees. I assume these resulted from the parents saying, "Now you'll see why I listen to this music all the time..." and dragging the kid along.
On with the show. As the theatre slowly filled, I cruised the stage to check out the setup. Lots of guitars, and Joe's drum set looked like a castle of drums, so ripe with potential. Cymbals on drum sets at major concerts always look so impossibly shiny.
Eventually Dweezil and the band came out. His stage presence is a lot different than Frank's. Dweezil is much more low-key, even when delivering the trademark Zappa wit. A guy yelled out, "ZAPPA!" To which Dweezil deftly replied, "Yes, it's a Zappa show. You're in the right auditorium." That went over well.
The softspokenness continued through the show. At one point Dweezil introduced a song – sorry, can't remember which one – by saying, "Now we're going to play this song."
It's not that he was uncommunicative. When someone called out for "Watermelon In Easter Hay," Dweezil explained that that song was "too close to the surface." He said that attempting to perform it "would probably make my head explode," but that maybe someday it will be possible. That's interesting. While Watermelon didn't come about during Frank's final years, I can easily see how, given the emotional nature of the song, it could well be emotionally trying for Dweez to play those particularly poignant notes and channel Frank on it.
Summarizing the Dweezil stage-affect situation, my sense is that he is filled with reverence and appreciation for his father's music and doesn't wish to intrude himself too much into it. In any case, he's totally natural on stage, and the music certainly says just about all that needs to be said. And he was quite voluble during the improv song, "Don't Let the Raccoon Scratch Your Face."
All in all the band performed some 22 songs (see Part 1). We've all been to concerts that left us feeling shortchanged by the short length, or lack of effort/energy. Not this time. The music was passionately performed, fully involving and went on nearly three hours. I clocked it at roughly two hours and 45 minutes.
Following the splendidly fulfilling show, people began to filter out of the auditorium. That seemed like an odd choice, since some of the musicians could be seen lingering at the frnt of the stage, talking to attendees. But, people do have to go home and pay babysitters.
I went ahead and wound my way through the exiting crowd, down to the stage. I reached it as Joe Travers was waving bye-bye, but Dweezil himself was there, chatting with fans and signing everything handed to him.
It was very pleasant, commiserating with Dweezil. he was in no hurry, very relaxed and open to conversation. At first, a few dozen fans pressed against the stage, offering praise, suggestions, or just watching.
I told him that I do a Zappa radio show in Humboldt County and asked him to consider being on it. He said maybe he would. I'm sure lots of people ask him for things (a guy next to me asked to be in the band) and he obviously can't agree to everything requested of him.
But here's a weird one. I told him the show is called "Zappa's Grubby Chamber," and he wasn't aware of the term! But, but, but... He stood there above me, signing someone's t-shirt on his knee, shook his head and said, "I don't know what that is..." He's never see the hunk o' plaster in the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen?
Meanwhile, I encouraged him to take the music and make it his. It wasn't the first time he's heard it. He said, in so many words, that people suggest often that, but that he wouldn't feel right altering Frank's versions.
Here we have a basic philosophical dilemma. For any given song, does one select one of Frank's interpretations and replicate that, or do you do what Frank himself would have done – use those songs as starting points for reinterpretation? Dweezil has obviously chosen the former, feels very strongly about it and carries that method out very well. He did say that he hopes to tour with ZPZ annually. I have to think that eventually, he'll feel comfortable with bringing forth his own twists on the tunes.
I also suggested he do some of his music, but again, he said something to the effect that he wouldn't dream of inserting his songs into the Frank-music mix. Personally, I've always liked Dweezil's music, from "My Mother Is a Space Cadet" up to "Automatic." I particularly enjoy "Shampoohorn" and "Music for Pets." I know some Frank fans hold Dweeztunes in lesser regard, but after this show, I think it's fairly incontestable that he gets FZ music as much as anyone and is capable of his own greatness.
He said the band now knows 70 or so songs. I'm sure they know them well, too – just like Frank's band. But you know what? I personally think that this band actually comes together better than some of the units Frank had in the early 1980s. That's not saying anything about the talents of any individual musicians, just the the coherence of the band as a unit.
Photo by Ron Antaki
At one point, I heard someone behind me saying, "Is Kevin here?" I turned around and said, "I'm Kevin." It turned out to be Ron Antaki, a guy who sends me cryptic e-mail messages of Zappa appreciation during the ZGC radio shows (at firstname.lastname@example.org). He was real nice and took a bunch of pics on his RazR. I also met Yusef Malenky, who took a pic on his phone that I haven't seen yet. And another guy right next to me turned out to be Steve Bruhn from McKinleyville, right next to Arcata.
Eventually, everything had been signed and said, the crowd dwindled and Dweezil took his leave. The fans left towards cars and BART, chatting. I went up to some guys in Zappa regalia at the BART station and asked them what they thought of the concert, and they turned out to be listeners to the radio show too – at least when they're in Humboldt County!
Tony Magee of Lagunitas Brewing Co. Photo by KLH
So, all in all, I attended a wonderful Zappa show at one of the same places I used to do that, got to meet and converse somewhat substantively with Dweezil, met a bunch of cool fans and got some free beer! I'd say it was a productive trip. You know, I still feel the happy glow from that concert.
Oh, and I got weeks worth of radio show and blog ideas out of it, too. So on the Aug. 31 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, I'll pick up with the ZPZ set list where we left off last week. What with all the versioning (which people tell me they enjoy as much as I do), we only made it through the first six songs. We'll pick up with Suzy Creamcheese, and see how far we can get.
Keep those calls and e-mails coming, folks, and don't forget to comment right here.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Monday, August 20, I attended the Zappa Plays Zappa/Tour De Frank show at the Berkeley Community Theatre. Here are my impressions and experiences.
To do this properly, I have to separate it into two parts, maybe three: First, the core experience, the music. Then, aftermath and commentary.
The Dog Breath Variations: If there was any doubt that this eight-piece orchestra could bring off a Frank composition not just adequately, but with flair and spirit, the opening song banished it. They captured every incidental delight and nuance of this classic tune, and it was utterly fascinating to behold.
City of Tiny Lights: Featuring Ray White. What more could you want?
Advance Romance: A colossal, sprawling and spirited treatment.
Dumb All Over: Featuring Frank on vocals, projected on the screen in back of the band. Immaculately synchronized and completely riveting.
What's New In Baltimore: Dweezil mentioned the recent "Frank Zappa Day" in Baltimore, and said that the only thing better would be if they make it an annual event.
Carolina Hard Core Ecstacy: Always one of my favorites, and a cordial powerhouse of a song.
Suzy Creamcheese/Brown Shoes Don't Make It/America Drinks & Goes Home: Dweezil dedicated this to the fans who have been with Frank since the days of Freak Out! and Absolutely Free. And during "America Drinks," Gail Zappa made an appearance as The Waitress!
Pygmy Twylyte: The epic version, as performed on YCDTOSA Vol. II, The Helsinki Concert. I just played this last week on the show. Another consummate rendering.
Dupree's Paradise: A vehicle for the band to show off their individual talents. As each took their turn, fragments of other Frank songs were inserted as backing vehicles. I heard "Packard Goose" in there, among other tunes. All were A+. I must say, Jamie Kime's guitar solo was a truly jarring and innovative standout, in the best Frank tradition. Joe Travers, you are extraordinary.
Don't Let the Raccoon Scratch Your Face: Dweezil asked the audience for words to be used as the basis for an improv. (He also suggested the possibility of a dance contest on stage, but that was not to be.) I couldn't ear what was yelled out, but Dweezil said it was nonsense words, so he suggested "Don't let the raccoon scratch your face." And with that, the band launched into a bluesy, very Zappaesque piece with Ray inventing a scenario around the phrase. It was great to see them be spontaneous and take risks, as that's what Frank was all about.
Uncle Remus: Lots of people sang along, me included.
Willie the Pimp: Again, a song I played last week on the show in response to a street musician's comments.
Joe's Garage: A warm, sentimental song. This included the only flub of the night, though other attendees I talked to didn't catch it and I wonder if I was hallucinating. At one point, if I remember correctly, as Ray sang the sixth verse, (People seemed to like our song...), about midway through Dweezil cut in with the following verse, sort of singing over Ray and advancing the song ahead to that point. Ray looked surprised, and gave sort of a "What I do wrong?" look, but the song concluded without further incident. Like I said, others didn't notice this, so I don't know. And in the grand scheme of things, who gives a fuck, anyway?
Wind Up Working In A Gas Station: Another fave of mine, brought off in perky fashion.
San Ber'dino: Joyous, full of musicality.
The Illinois Enema Bandit: Featuring Ray White! Dweezil's solo started subtly, just like Frank's did, and built up to cataclysmic proportions.
Wild Love: I've always loved this song for its mixture of insight into human sexual ritual behavor and musical complexity, which is sheer Frankness. Impeccable without being careful or academic in any way.
Yo' Mama: As excellent as the concert had been up to this point, the entire experience (and, it seemed, the Berkeley Community Theatre itself) was elevated onto another plane with this song. (Song – what a trivial word to describe this soulful expression.)
I've never dwelt much on Yo' Mama. I like it, but I realize now that I haven't appreciated it. As you know, it's not fast; there's no tinkertoy discursions or huge jokes to distinguish it.
But during that atmospheric portion when Frank/Dweezil goes off on guitar against a rich harmonic backdrop... ladies and gentlemen, it became a spiritual experience. Dweezil's guitar spoke like a voice – Frank's voice. Our voice.
I felt tears welling up in my eyes, and even the memory of it makes me feel a piquant mixture of beauty/love/sadness/eternity that's all mixed up with appreciation of the Zappa ethos as conveyed by Frank, and now, so masterfully, by Dweezil. I'll never hear that song the same way again.
Cosmick Debris: Featuring Frank from 1973 on guitar. Another amazing display of synchronization. And, 30-plus years later, Frank shreds with the best of today's guitar gymnasts, but of course with the benefit of the sheer intelligence that runs through everything he did. There's that one point in this solo - people who saw the show will know what I'm talking about - when Frank just seizes the guitar and wrings a petulant frenzy of naughty notes out of it. What the hell was that?
G-Spot Tornado: Unbelievable. Who needs computers to make impossible music? This thing was a multi-level tour de Frank-force brought off with a power and precision that was simply breathtaking.
Muffin Man: A great way to end the show, with the guttural graunch of a beloved Zappa classic that rocked beyond all reason.
On the August 24, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, we'll replicate the set list with the versions of the songs Dweezil and the band played. Feel free to call or e me with your comments, especially any reviews from the Berkeley or other shows.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
It was quite an experience.
I met Dweezil after the show. He was very generous with his time, sharing thoughts with fans and discussing his approach to the music.
I also met no less than four people who listen to Zappa's Grubby Chamber! I'm really inspired, and have all sorts of new ideas for the show.
After putting out the newspaper last night, then driving down here and seeing the concert, my brain needs down time to process everything.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Unlike populist rabble-rousers, I've never been one to venerate the supposed collective intelligence of "the people." I mean, look at some of the political decisions that vaunted fount of wisdom, "we the people" have made lately.
Being in the news business, I all too painfully know how ill-informed people generally are, and how low their threshold is for accepting rumor and folklore as fact. Essentially, people believe what they want to believe regardless of the factual information available to them. They cherry-pick fact-fragments that reinforce their pre-existing views. That's how it is and how it's always going to be.
As you know, popular perceptions of Frank Zappa are laden with misinformation, fueled to a great extent by media weasels like myself. I'd go so far as to say that there has probably never been a more misunderstood popular musician.
And yet, I don't see what's so hard to understand about him at all. Frank seems like a logical, extremely intelligent person who happened to be unfettered by the illusions and false assumptions that keep most of us from realizing our potential. No wonder he confuses "the people."
The mythology persists. I've had people tell me they smoked big fat doobies with Frank, and worse. I'm not going to repeat some of the more pernicious memes, and if I ever read the description of Frank as "Rock's Rasputin" again, I'm going to have a major white-guy hissyfit and throw the magazine across the room, scaring my old cat.
This past week I went out on the streets of Arcata asking people – mostly street people – what they know or think they know about Frank. What I got was a heady mix of genuine insight and fairly appalling misinformation, plus some funny moments.
I recorded it all, and will play some of the clips on the August 17 show. One is an interview with a couple of guys named Jay and Daryl who have a musical unit of sorts called "Indigenous Soul." They even performed a song for me, called "Kelly." It was, to plug in some lame-ass music critic terminology here, an acoustic/rap fusion featuring Jay on guitar and Daryl on mouth percussion and attempted harmonies.
Was their song Zappa-influenced? I'd say yes, in that Frank stretched boundaries and made imagination permissible, so while "Kelly" wouldn't have been something Frank came up with, it's not inconceivable that it wouldn't exist in the same form without Zappa having done what he did. Anyway, you can decide Friday night when I play the song.
Apart from Indigenous Soul, there were some other folks with remarkable insights and whatever the opposite of that is. Suffice to say that among us walk many people who have a working knowledge of Frank, and can name several of his songs/albums/musicians/slogans.
We are not alone.
Friday, August 10, 2007
WHEREAS, Frank Zappa’s artistry involved many musical genres, including rock, jazz, electronic, and symphonic music, and his lasting impact has left an indelible mark on the art and all those who attempt to follow in his footsteps; and
WHEREAS, Frank Zappa has received world-wide recognition for his talents and innovation and defense of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States of America; and
WHEREAS, representing the Zappa Family, Dweezil Zappa is here today to embody his father’s music and legacy on stage for the first time in Baltimore, making this an appropriate day to honor Frank Zappa’s memory and his many great accomplishments.”
Dweezil’s self-imposed mission is to bring Frank Zappa’s music back to the live concert stage, explaining, “I think my Dad's music deserves to be heard by a wider audience. I really think he's been misunderstood for far too long, which brings me back to why I'm doing this: I'm so in awe of his accomplishments and want more and more people to know about him, and I think the best way for people to first discover his music is on a visceral level in a live situation. I think you have to be confronted with the complexity and the beautiful subtlety of all of it to fully appreciate the artistry of it."
Thursday, August 9, 2007
I saw the "Call Any Vegetable" video on the ZPZ website. It's a surprising choice, that they replicate the Just Another Band From L.A. rendition of the song, right down to the accidental nuances of Flo & Eddie's vocal performances from long, long ago.
I do hope that the show isn't solely in "tribute" mode, re-doing all the songs as though they were frozen in time. Frank never did that – he changed songs around massively from tour to tour and night to night. Surely Dweezil is cognizant of that, and I hope the band injects some originality and spontaneity into the show.
Back in 1988, as Frank and the Most Unhappy Band You Never Heard In Your Life were touring, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. (later joined by Liza Minelli) did their "Rat Pack" tour. I'm a lot more tolerant now, but still, that type of music and their whole culture is anathema to me.
But what I really hated about that type of concert event was that it was just a Greatest Hits exhibition – a smirking run-through of past glories. Not that there's anything wrong with it, I suppose, when you're dealing with lounge music. But with Frank's repertoire, I'd not even consider approaching it that way, and neither would Frank.
That said, I'm going to go with an open mind. Even if they do ultra-familiar versions, it'll still be the best FZ tribute band ever.
So, for the Aug. 10 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, I'll play radically different versions of FZ songs – ones that Frank morphed massively between studio and live performance, including "Call Any Vegetable," "Tell Me You Love Me," "Trouble Every Day," "Zoot Allures" and whatever you, today's concerned Frank Zappa fan, might suggest.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
For a drummer, Zappa music is SO fun to play along with. I'd pop on the headphones, put my scratchy copy of Just Another Band From L.A. on and emulate Aynsley Dunbar's parts for 20 minutes. To this day, that album and many others are embedded in my muscle memory (I know, I know, there's no such thing, but whatever).
At the time, it just didn't seem like there could be anyone better than Aynsley. But as we know, Frank's music has a way of bringing out the best of whatever great musicians he has in the band at the time, reflecting their talents and musical character. So when Ralph Humphrey, then Chester Thompson came along, it didn't seem like anyone else could fit the music better.
I remember attending my first Zappa concert and seeing Ralph and Chester together, and it bent my brain. Some musicians are inspired by phenomenal demonstrations of musical prowess. Me, I was just intimidated. That's probably why I never ascended into the professional realm. (I did do a couple of things with my bands, Think Tank and the Trilobites, that I'm not ashamed of. Maybe I'll post samples someday.)
Then came the Terry Bozzio era, and all bets were off. The guy was explosive beyond belief. Again Frank had located a huge talent and given him a platform to excel. Can you really imagine anyone else playing on Sheik Yerbouti?
Then, the eight-armed polyrhythmic monster Vinnie Colaiuta took the drummer's throne, and yet another new dimension in drumming was at hand. While I love all the Frank drummers, if I had to pick just one, it would be Vinnie. That guy... There's an in-the-moment immediacy to his playing that's just unrivaled. In my booklet, anyway. As he walked to his car after one of the Santa Monica shows featured on Tinseltown Rebellion, I stupidly asked Vinnie how he could play with such polyrhythmic complexity, as if there could be any answer to that besides talent and lots of practice. He was nice, and said something along the lines of, "I just do it."
To me, David Logeman was the first break in the ascending curve of drummer awesomeness. It's not that he isn't a great drummer; after all, he was able to play Frank's music. But no, he wasn't a Terry or Vinnie. I heard at the time that Frank had trouble locating a drummer for the 1980 tour (if I had time to do research, I'm sure I'd turn up details). I heard that David was the 54th one to audition. When Mike Keneally was in Arcata one time, I mentioned to him that David's performances were "workmanlike," and Mike immediately agreed with this characterization, repeating the term. I remember one show when David made a slight but discernible mistake on the complicated middle part of "Jumbo, Go Away," and Frank abruptly stopped the show, saying, "Logeman, that's inexcusable!" and making the band start over. (It wasn't as cordial as when he did that with Chester on "Montana" on YCDTOSA Vol. II. I guess he went on the play with Jan & Dean?!? Finally, I went to Disney's California Adventure a few years ago and there at the entrance was David and his Surf City All-Stars on a portable stage. They had a little thing where David took a drum out amid the spectators and had them attempt to play the solo on "Wipeout." Of course it was cute to see kids have a moment in the sun as a drummer, and yeah, OK, I stepped forward and gave it a try. After the fun, I mentioned to David that "That was easier than playing 'Charlie's Enormous Mouth,'" and he looked slightly startled that anyone would remember that song. I wanted to talk to him more, but he and the band were subsequently towed away, still playing on the portable stage, behind a big gate and I never got the opportunity.
Finally came the Chad Wackerman era. At first I wasn't that impressed with Chad. I thought he was kind of Logeman-perfunctory and stiff with the parts, and his drum sound seemed thin, with a "papery" snare drum. But he evolved mightily, and approached Vinnie-ish levels on The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life. His drums sounded really great on that album, too.
As for Jimmy Carl Black, well, all I can say is that his work never inspired me very much. I don't think he was very happy playing things outside the blues/bar band envelope. And I didn't like the things he said about Frank when he was in the Grandmothers. I went and saw them at a club in Hayward, Calif. on Halloween, 1981, the same night that Frank was on MTV. The Grandmothers liked to say that Frank had ripped off their ideas and wouldn't let them play to their fullest potential, and yet, all they did was play carbon copies of things that were on Uncle Meat, etc., the way Frank had arranged them.
I had the opportunity to interview and do a newspaper story on Arthur Trip in the early 1990s. he was a chiropractor in McKinleyville, Calif., at the time. He'd given up drums and percussion, and has now moved on.
So, for the Aug. 3 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, I'll focus on some of the great drumming and drummers on Frank Zappa music. Feel free as always to send in any relevant requests. And if you have any awesome insights, call in and we'll talk about it one the air.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
WHY AM I SHOUTING LIKE THIS?!?
But wait, there's more:
Now how much would you pay? (Hint: $2.99 to $3.99.)
Tony Magee of Lagunitas Brewing Company is responsible for the above potables, which you can actually buy and guzzle. Er, savor, that is.
Such commitment. And it gets better. Tony and Lagunitas plan to issue a commemorative beer for every official Zappa album, 40 years after their initial release – the next one after Kill Ugly Radio Ale will be Lumpy Gravy. That should look pretty appealing next to the Pabst Blue Ribbon on the supermarket cooler shelf.
And in fact, this is mostly about the album cover labels – a bubbly valentine for Frank fans, according to Tony. "The label sells itself," he says. "I just want the label to be out there in the world." And so it is!
For Freak Out! Ale, Tony put a lot of effort into the recipe – probably more than was necessary – which inspired many reviews and commentary. So for Kill Ugly Radio Ale (which should make Barry kinda happy), Tony simply went with good beer: "A big, really fresh-hopped pale ale," as he describes it. What more could a Frank fan want? (Well, come to think of it, maybe two things. See if you can guess what they are.)
Naturally, this wouldn't be possible without the Zappa family's consent. But Tony said Mrs. Z and the fam embraced the idea, and even had him over to their home! There, he met Gail, Dweezil (yes, that Dweezil) and Vaultmeister Joe Travers (arguably the world's most insanely amazing drummer – at least I've never seen anyone play like that).
So that's what you have to do to make the pilgrimage to Zappa Ground Zero - invent Frankworthy beer. But damn, it's been done.
For his next project, Tony is working on a whole line of Suzi Quatro-flavored beers. There's Stumblin' In Ale, Daytona Demon Pilsner... OK, I made that up. But the Zappa beer is real.
So, to tell us all about Lagunitas Brewing Company's Zappa-flavored beers, none other than Tony Magee himself will be my guest on Zappa's Grubby Chamber, Friday, June 27 at 10:30 p.m. Pacific time.
Meanwhile, how many Frank songs so much as mention beer? Two come to mind... I won't say which... tune in...
Thursday, July 19, 2007
That was also where I once received a personal missive from a Mr. Zappa. Naturally it blew me away. I had done two disconnected things, and with his computer brain, he made the connection, tracked me down and sent me the nice letter above.
First, after a show, I handed Frank some Zappa bucks. (Maybe seeing his Overnite Sensation/"I'm the Slime" visage in the presidential oval inspired Frank's later presidential aspirations?)
Second, I sent him a photo of me standing next to a fantastic, custom-made foamcore Tinseltown Rebellion display from the tape cassette store I managed at the time. I'd written my address on the back, and someone later told me the picture was posted on the wall in his manager Bennett Glotzer's office.
So, at some point within the Zappa organization, Frank seems to have inquired about that guy in that picture with the TR display (me), who also gave him a Zappa buck, and do we have his address? And I get a letter in the mail.
There was a period in the late 1970s and into the 1980s when Frank would nod in greeting when he spotted me in and around concerts. Sometimes I think about how my existence was actually encoded in Frank Zappa's brain! Not bad for a Northern Californian, since he refers to our kind as "hot tub dipshits!"
Oh, did I mention that the next Zappa's Grubby Chamber show is on Friday, July 27? The July 20 show is pre-empted by Relay For Life, though I hear there will be at least some Zappa triage for the needy between 10 p.m. and midnight.
But to truly quench those Zappa thirsts, tune in July 27, for something really special.
A bwahaha may be in order here, along with a grand mooo-aaaahhh.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Yes, another LP. Know how hard it is to take a pic of a vinyl record without your reflection showing up in it?
Funny how in the olden days we had to have big, dumb pieces of plastic to convey sound info. But it made for some nice picture discs.
Frank was, as we know, one of the more articulate and voluble "rock stars." And he had actual things to say. I have tons of old interviews with him; clippings from various mags and newspapers, fanzines, etc.
One thing I'm sort of saving for the future is the big interview Eric and I did with Frank in Sacramento. It's hard for me to listen to these days, as it was the first time I'd met Frank and I was very nervous. But one of these weeks I'll get around to playing it.
So, I have no idea what's on the above record, but I'll play it on the July 13, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber. Plus some spiffy tunes and who knows what else.
Feel free to e-mail and call during the show. Listener input always takes the show in interesting and unexpected directions.